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Blogtable: Outlook for D’Angelo Russell in 2016-17?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Gameplan for the Heat? | Future for Lakers’ Russell? |
Lasting memories of NBA summer?


> D’Angelo Russell recently said his rookie season was “bad.” Do you expect a better 2016-17 out of him? And what is one thing you want to see him improve on?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m just going to say “basketball” and leave it right here. For a guy whose rookie season got defined by shenanigans, even his clever, face-saving sneaker commercial had nothing to do with him helping his team get better. Why do I think he’d be better served by playing in Oklahoma City, Minnesota or Sacramento, as far as limited distractions? Russell can be a better shooter, more efficient passer and lock-down defender, but not until his name appears in John Schuhmann’s numbers-crunchings way more often than on TMZ Sports.

 

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Based on everything I’ve heard, the kid has grown up, from a basketball standpoint. He really wants to be a star. He put in the work over the summer. He knows he let some people down. That’s a good start and refreshing attitude. Leadership is the one area where he needs the most improvement and he has recognized that. Sometimes we forget that these guys are still teenagers on the maturity clock. He and coach Luke Walton are forging a solid relationship and the results of that will be apparent on the court.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of reasons to believe he’ll be better. The summer after your rookie year should be your most productive summer, because you got a taste of the league and know where you have to improve. There will be no deferring to the Kobe Farewell Tour this season and Luke Walton should be a more encouraging coach. Obviously, pick-and-roll decision-making is going to be critical for him, but he also needs to take a big step forward defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Seeing is believing with D’Angelo Russell. He can talk all he wants about what happened during his rookie season, good and bad, but his maturity will be measured by the growth I see in his game and in his understanding of what it takes to be a leader of a team. He showed plenty of flashes on the court. But the leadership component is more important than anything else right now. The Lakers are sure to face some struggles this season and they’ll be searching for an identity as a group under coach Luke Walton. Russell has to step up, he has to lead as the point guard and figure out a way to repair his credibility in the locker room. While I hate heaping that responsibility on a player so young, the Lakers have no choice but to put him on that hot seat this season. The baby steps days are over.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHe’ll definitely be better. But can Russell be an elite star? That is the bottom line for a franchise that has been defined by A-list talent for decades. The one thing Russell must establish is a starring presence – even though he is not exceptional athletically and he has no dominating teammates. He must create a new era. No other young star will be held to such a high standard. It is asking a lot of someone with so much still to learn.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogStarted from the bottom now we’re here? I think the type of season Russell turns in should tell us a lot about him, and whether he can learn from a bumpy rookie road. Russell had some great showings at the Las Vegas Summer League, but that’s Summer League. I do think he’ll get a boost from the change in coaching staff, and hopefully have more of a chance to play and display what he can do on the court. I also wonder if the presence of Brandon Ingram will serve to take just enough of the spotlight off Russell to allow him to shine.

Morning shootaround — March 29


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook nearing stats history | Scott blasts Lakers’ youngsters | Pierce suffers knee, ankle injuries | Warriors aim to tighten up defense

No. 1: Westbrook on brink of NBA history — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th triple-double last night and OKC improved to 16-0 in those games. What’s more amazing than that perfect mark? How about this: that’s Westbrook’s seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in 1989. The 16 triple-doubles is two off the all-time mark (held by Magic Johnson) for the most in a season over the last 30 years … and Westbrook still has eight games to play. Oh, and entering this season, Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for Westbrook’s amazing performance in Toronto and has more on his play this season:

Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot — about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He’s not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.

After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.

“That was unreal,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that right, and you’ve just got to be as athletic as him. There’s only a few … ”

Durant stopped himself.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” he said. “You’ve got to make the free throw, but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he’s a freak of nature, man.”

There aren’t many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. “Freak of nature” seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate.

The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson’s record of 17.

It’s an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that’s what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it’s a career accomplishment to get one — remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? — so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?

“It’s something I never take for granted,” he said, “but I like winning.”

That’s what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They’re now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under coach Billy Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a “better brand of basketball,” as everyone in the organization likes to say.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.

“I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys,” Durant said. “Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face — just knowing you’ve got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important.”

Donovan also offered his take.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt,” the coach said. “You’ve got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you’ve got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow — I’ve said this about this team — I don’t think it ever needs to be easy for them. It’s got to be hard.”

Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday.


VIDEO: Best plays from Russell Westbrook’s 16th triple-double this season

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Morning shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ | Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes | Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis | Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs

No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:

When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.

But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.

One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”

Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.

“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”

As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell WestbrookSerge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”

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Blogtable: Thoughts on Russell as Lakers’ starting point guard?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOByron Scott on the decision to make D’Angelo Russell a starter

> The Lakers say rookie D’Angelo Russell will be in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not a big thing. He was the second pick in the Draft; at some point, you have to put him out there every night. I don’t think it will affect his future in L.A. one way or another. The Lakers have bigger issues to address once the season ends, from the top of the organization on down.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt seems like a little Lakers business got put out in the street, with coach Byron Scott‘s attempts to force some discipline and responsibility on Russell (who seemed to feel entitled by his draft position) now yielding to management’s desire to force-feed him minutes. But this is a little deal from a league perspective because the Lakers are a team that, beyond the Kobe Tour, barely registers on the NBA radar in 2015-16. Their next relevant date will be the night of the draft lottery, and if they then can find another piece to put alongside Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, we’ll start paying attention in Las Vegas in July.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMuch ado about nothing. While fans may have wanted Russell as a starter from opening night, coach Byron Scott wanted him to learn the ropes a bit before tossing him into the deep end of the pool. He’s not Karl-Anthony Towns and wasn’t going to thrive from Day One.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Much ado about nothing, with a very slight lean toward little thing. Maybe it feels better to him. Maybe it helps his ego. That’s fine. The important thing is that he gets real minutes to develop, and Russell is sixth among rookies in minutes and second in the class in fourth-quarter minutes. He is getting those real minutes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s a little thing. Look, we can quibble with how Byron Scott handled Russell so far this season, but we aren’t watching the practices and don’t know all the details about why Russell wasn’t getting prime time minutes. Sometimes, young players need to sit and observe, although I’m not saying that should’ve been the case here. Russell has 20-something remaining games to make his mistakes and give the Lakers more reasons to feel fantastic about his future. If he does that, then his season will be a success.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a good thing, not huge, but not insignificant, either. It gives him more reps with fellow building blocks Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, which will only help down the line. The Lakers need those guys to grow together. Russell and Randle are the future of the franchise and, according to SportVU, they’ve run fewer pick-and-rolls together than Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert, which is silly. The front office should have insisted that Byron Scott make this move earlier, because Russell is obviously going to outlast Scott in L.A.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Unfortunately for Russell (and anyone else in a Lakers uniform this season not named Bryant), this is much ado about nothing. The Lakers relinquished any rights to a meaningful season when they announced that the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour would supersede anything else that goes on this season in Lakerland. That includes the development of youngsters like Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. It’s a shame, really, because Russell’s development should have been this season’s top priority. Crushing his confidence and regularly tapping his knuckles publicly might have seemed like a good idea to some in L.A. From here, it looks as shortsighted as anything the Lakers have done the past three seasons. If Russell isn’t a foundational player, then the Lakers have basically whiffed on every significant move they’ve made in the Jim Buss era.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is not a big deal. Too much was made of the decision earlier this season to bring him off the bench – as if it was a mistake to insist that Russell earn his minutes. I appreciate the tough-love approach of Byron Scott, and someday Russell may look back and be grateful for it too.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think it’s a great thing, at least for Russell. We talked about this a lot on the Hang Time Podcast a few weeks back, but at some point you have to give Russell the opportunity to start and play minutes. Maybe he fails. Maybe he soars. Either way, you owe it to the guy you drafted second overall to at least have a chance to prove himself. And by the way, at this point it’s not like you’re in the playoff race. Let the kid play.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

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 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

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No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

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No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

How Divac nearly upended Kobe trade | Curry, Barnes back in mix for Warriors | Thunder fall apart vs. Kings | Scott says Randle needs to ‘grow up’

No. 1: Divac nearly cancelled Kobe trade to Lakers — Today, Vlade Divac is the Sacramento Kings’ general manager after a 16-year NBA playing career from 1989-2005. In early-to mid-1990s, Divac was a solid young center on the Los Angeles Lakers who was a part of one Finals team with Magic Johnson (1991) and a key cog in a youthful Lakers group (including Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and others) that seemed primed for big things out West. Yet come the night of the 1996 Draft, Divac was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to rookie (and future franchise icon) Kobe Bryant. As Divac explains to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, though, he wanted nothing to do with the trade and nearly axed the deal by retiring rather than play in Charlotte:

“My feelings were that I play basketball for fun. This is not fun,” Divac recently told Yahoo Sports about the 1996 draft-day deal that sent him to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, who is expected to play his final game in Sacramento on Thursday. “If somebody asked before, ‘Vlade, are you going to play basketball over there [in Charlotte]?’ It’s not going to happen. I talked to my wife and told her, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’

“It would have been so bad. I would have been the most hated guy in L.A.”

The Serbian quickly fell in love with Los Angeles and was in even deeper love playing for the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds primarily as a starter from 1989-1996.

But before the 1996 draft, then-Lakers general manager Jerry West became infatuated with Bryant, the high school kid from Philadelphia who was destined to become a superstar. West worked out a deal to send Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in the draft, which the Hornets used to select Bryant for the Lakers. By trading Divac, who was set to make $4.7 million in the 1996-97 season, the Lakers would clear the needed salary-cap space to make a lucrative offer to Shaquille O’Neal in free agency.

Divac was in Europe and was stunned when his agent told him about the trade. Days later, Divac said he informed the Lakers he planned to retire, which would have prevented the team from trading him for Bryant.

“It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn’t plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, ‘I play basketball for fun.’ My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, ‘Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don’t pay you?’

“I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys.”

Within 10 days after the draft, Divac said he returned to Los Angeles ready to retire, yet he agreed to meet with West. After an “emotional meeting” with West, Divac changed his mind and agreed to the trade.

“Jerry called me and I flew back to L.A. and we had lunch,” Divac said. “The trade happened [in principle], but I was holding it up. … It was a great conversation. He said, ‘Why don’t you go over there and explore and see if you like it or not?’

“Me and Jerry had a very good relationship. He was the guy who was waiting for me at the airport [after being drafted in 1989]. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. And I trust him so much. He is the best basketball mind in the world. When Jerry tells you something, you believe it.”

Divac decided to have his wife and children stay in Los Angeles for stability while he played the next two seasons with Charlotte. Despite initial struggles, he averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Hornets in two seasons from 1996-98.

“We played sellout basketball in front of 24,000 people who love basketball in North Carolina,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “Each year we had 50-plus wins, and when you win it’s fun. But my first 10 games, I was awful. I can’t explain it. I was fumbling the ball. The funny thing was one of my first games was against the Lakers. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’

“I felt like I started playing basketball two days ago. There was still mental stuff. I was thinking negative stuff like, ‘Why did they trade me? Was it worth it [coming here]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Come on, Vlade, it’s just a game.’ I knew that after two years I would come out West and move closer to my family.”

Divac signed as a free agent with the Kings in 1998 with his family and a return to the West Coast in mind. Divac and the Kings pushed the Lakers to brink of elimination entering Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but the Lakers would win the next two games to stop Sacramento from making its first Finals appearance.

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Scott’s job safe | Thompson continues development | Melo not getting calls | Jefferson suspended five games

No. 1: Report: Scott’s job safe After losing last night in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers’ fourth loss in a row, the Lakers dropped to 3-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the NBA. While it seemed likely that the Los Angeles Lakers, with their mix of youth and veteran talent, would probably have to be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in Byron Scott‘s second season as head coach, few people expected it to be this bad, this early. But according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Scott’s job is probably safe for the season

His star player has kept trying to fight Father Time with little success. His NBA lottery picks have accepted unexpected bench roles publicly, but admittedly expressed initial frustration.

He has also overseen the Lakers’ worst start in franchise history, a 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center marking the team’s fourth consecutive loss as the Western Conference’s worst team.

But Byron Scott still has enough support from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss that he is expected to coach through the rest of the 2015-16 season, according to team sources familiar with the situation. With Scott signing a four-year, $17 million deal last summer, the Lakers plan to evaluate his future once the 2015-16 season ends, according to a team source.

The Lakers are not happy with the persistent losing, obviously. But Kupchak and Buss sympathize with Scott on handling what one team source called “a no-win situation.”

On one hand, Scott has felt pressure to handle Kobe Bryant‘s workload in his 20th and final NBA season. Scott remains mindful of Bryant’s struggles, averaging 16.2 points per game average on 30.6-percent shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. But the Lakers also want to play Bryant significant minutes out of reverence for his five NBA titles and to enjoy his farewell tour.

But out of respect for Bryant’s extensive accomplishments that have spanned five NBA championships and his current retirement tour, the Lakers have understood Scott’s tendency to lean on him heavily. They are also mindful of the challenge it takes to manage Bryant’s competitive nature. “I want him to enjoy this as much as possible,” Scott said of Bryant. “You’ve never seen him smile as much on the basketball court or talk to his opponents as much as he’s done the last two or three weeks. He’s at a very good place in his life and his career.”

On the other hand, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell represent the Lakers’ long-term future after they selected them seventh overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Russell posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes against Minnesota. Russell added 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But Randle and Russell both face learning curves with their development. Randle lacks consistency with his jump shot, while Russell has struggled on defense.

The Lakers have granted Scott the autonomy to coach his team without interference. But Kupchak and/or Buss will likely meet with Scott next week after the team’s eight-game trip to gain a better understanding of his thought process on how he will develop the team’s young players, according to a team source familiar with the situation.

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No. 2: Thompson continues development While the Warriors keep reeling off wins to start this season, Stephen Curry remains the headliner, drawing hundreds of fans each night just to see his warm up routine. But not far behind Curry in terms of popularity and skill is the Warriors’ 25-year-old shooting guard, Klay Thompson. As Thompson told Nima Zarrabi from SLAM, he’s continued evolving as a person while he keeps putting in work as a player

Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game — he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.

“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much — we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”

Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”

“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”

His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.

It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.

“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter — it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”

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No. 3: Melo not getting calls Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has always played a physical style of basketball, which includes getting to the free throw line regularly. Except when he doesn’t get to the line: So far this season, Anthony is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game, a career low. And as Mark Berman writes in the New York Post, Anthony understands why he doesn’t get the calls he thinks he should be getting

A candid Carmelo Anthony explained his recent frustrations at not getting enough foul calls, saying he’s been told by referees he’s the most “difficult player” to officiate and vowing he will never flop.

Anthony, who had received a technical foul in two straight games before the Knicks’ 106-85 destruction at the Jazz’s hands on Wednesday, was in a five-game slump with his shooting percentage dipping to 40.6 percent on the season. He admitted his wife, La La, chastised him for yelling at female referee Lauren Holtkamp in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.

“They just tell me I’m the most difficult player to referee in the NBA,” Anthony said at the morning shootaround in Utah before going 3 of 11 on the night. “I’ve heard that a couple of times. It’s unclear on who is creating the contact. My goal is to go to the basket. If I’m creating the contact going toward the basket [and] I get hit, it’s a foul.”

Anthony is one of the most physical drivers in the game, but said he feels he’s recently not being effective because he’s not getting to the free-throw line.

“I always get fouled,” Anthony said. “That’s what’s frustrating me. You play so hard, work so hard and don’t benefit from that. You look at other guys, you touch them and look at them wrong and get fouls. It’s a frustrating thing for me as a guy who likes to go to the basket, play in the paint. I like to play physical. It’s frustrating.

“I’m human,” Anthony added. “Those frustrations kick in at times, especially when you’re down there banging and know you’re getting banged on. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to play another way.”

So does he need to sell the foul more?

“See, I don’t know how to flop, that’s the thing,” Anthony said. “Nowadays guys know how to flop, get hit and put their head back. I don’t know how to flop. I won’t even look right trying to do that. I won’t even feel right trying it.

“A lot of times I get hit and I still continue to get to my spots just because I’m big and strong. A lot of guys get hit and they stop. I’m not saying they’re flopping, but they’re lighter than me. I can take a lot more physicality.”

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No. 4: Jefferson suspended five games The Charlotte Hornets have started to come together this season, winning three in a row and compiling a 13-8 record, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But while their All-NBA center Al Jefferson has missed a few games with a calf injury, it was learned yesterday that he’ll be out a bit longer: The NBA announced that Jefferson will have to serve a five game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, writes the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell

“I’m a man and I have to take full responsibility for my actions,” Jefferson said during a media availability before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I have to ask for forgiveness and put it behind me and try to move on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked on your head for your eyes to open up; to handle certain situations.”

Jefferson said he was first made aware he had failed a drug test about two weeks ago. The league informed him and the Hornets Tuesday that the suspension was coming.

Jefferson becomes a free agent in July after the three-season contract he signed in the summer of 2013 expires. It is unclear how this suspension might affect the Hornets’ interest in re-signing him, but the team issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone Jefferson’s behavior.

“We are disappointed in Al’s decisions that led to this suspension. As an organization, we do not condone this behavior,” the team statement read. “We have addressed this with Al. He is regretful and understands that we expect him to learn from this mistake.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the NBA has suspended a Hornets player. Last season the league suspended small forward Jeff Taylor 24 games after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in Michigan. Taylor now plays for Real Madrid in Spain.

Jefferson was arrested for driving under the influence in the winter of 2010 outside Minneapolis when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves suspended him two games after that incident.

Jefferson declined to specify what the drug test revealed. A source familiar with the current situation said marijuana is the substance this time connected to Jefferson.

Based on wording in the collective bargaining agreement, a five-game suspension indicates Jefferson was likely already in the marijuana-related league protocol. Under terms of the CBA, a first violation places you in the league’s program. A second violation would result in a $25,000 fine. A third violation would result in a five-game suspension.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Joel Embiid sighting recently in Philadelphia … Kent Bazemore played the first half last night in Dallas with his shorts on backward, then hit a game-winner … Paul Pierce hasn’t made any decisions about his future … Gregg Popovich hates three-pointersReggie Miller on another great shooter, Steph Curry … The Pistons should be getting Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings back soon … The Pacers’ Solomon Hill may be on the trade blockNick Young joked that his defensive abilities are similar to Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” …

Blogtable: Advice for the Lakers?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?



VIDEOIs Kobe Bryant holding back the Lakers?

> The Lakers are struggling. Is there a roster move, a lineup change or something else this team can do to salvage the season? Or should Lakers faithful just accept another lost campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: No magic bullets. This is rebuilding. But they can’t have one foot in and one foot out. They have to commit fully to it, and that has to come from the top — the very top — of the organization. If Jim and/or Jeanie Buss tells coach Byron Scott he has to start playing the young guys more down the stretch, he’ll play the young guys. But they can’t leave it up to him if that’s what they want. EVERY coach is going to try and win the game they’re playing that night, because that’s how they’re judged.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow long were things rough in Cleveland after LeBron James left? Four seasons, until James came back. What did the Cavaliers do in the interim? They twice drafted No. 1 overall (Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett) and folded in a pair of No. 4 picks as well (Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters). Then they did their feeble best to build around that. The Lakers haven’t suffered nearly as long or as much – it only seems like it because of their storied tradition and lofty expectations – since the Kobe BryantDwight HowardSteve Nash thing flopped in 2012-13. They’ve only had a No. 2 (D’Angelo Russell, just getting going) and a No. 7 (Julius Randle, who promptly got hurt) to work with, as high draft help. And Kobe sort of left without leaving, further limiting payroll and playing options. The Lakers’ best course would be to take their lumps again, make this all about Bryant’s farewell and focus on the money they’ll have to spend in the next two summers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s over. It’s been over since Kobe’s body began to break down, the Lakers signed him to the “thanks for the memories” contract that devoured the salary cap and Pau Gasol left. Those things happened more than a year ago. This is just reality.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I wouldn’t call it a lost campaign as long as there is valuable progress. That means developing the prospects, especially Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The losses are going to happen no matter what. But if they come because of inexperience and benefit the future, the organization and fans will be able to find positives. If they come while coach Byron Scott places a priority on winning now and leans heavier on the veterans, then it tips toward a lost season. That could deliver a few extra victories, but not enough to make a difference. As for a potential roster move: there is none, or at least none that will make a big difference. Two names bring real returns, and Randle and Russell are the future, not the trade bait.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This season was predetermined when the Lakers kept their No. 1 pick and refused to surround Kobe Bryant with win-now talent. The message was: We’ll use this season to say good-bye to Kobe and hello to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. No sense crying about that, and no sense trying to suddenly change the plan after a few weeks of the season. Their fans understand. Everyone understands.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a lost season in regard to competing for a top-10 spot in the Western Conference. It can be a productive season in regard to player development, but is Byron Scott the right coach for that? He says he cares more about winning games than developing the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Heck, is Scott the right coach for winning games? If the Lakers have any chance of being competitive, they need to play defense. His teams have finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last four full seasons he’s coached and this one currently ranks 29th.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It would take roster moves, lineup changes and small miracles for the Lakers to change the trajectory of this season. It’s time to look to the future and the continued development of the young talent on the roster. Let’s be honest. Things look bleak right now in Lakerland. And it’s all self-induced. The Lakers have made a series of mistakes that have led to this dark time when Kobe Bryant should be going out in a blaze of glory instead of fading into the shadows. What looked like a quick-fix super team of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went up in smoke and the Lakers have yet to recover. They need to ride this season out and see where life takes them at season’s end.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com This season is about Kobe Bryant‘s potential farewell and the development of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Then there is also the goal — the only other reward appropriate to their suffering — of “earning” a Top 3 selection in the lottery and thereby prevent their protected first-round pick from being forwarded to Philadelphia. Since the Lakers are going to be bad anyway, they should aim to be very bad.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, there’s a roster move they could make that might make their team better in the short-term, but would almost assuredly improve them in the long-term. It’s also a trade that would make a lot of Lakers fans revolt, but it should at least be discussed: The Lakers should trade Kobe Bryant. Kobe might be playing down his value right now, but he’s the one player with worth that goes beyond the basketball court. The Lakers still have two first-round picks outstanding, and Kobe might help re-fill those selections. Let the young guys play, and embrace the rebuilding right now which needs to happen sooner or later.


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